’Tis the season to travel, and AAA estimates 112.7 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home for the holidays. That’s an increase of 3.6 million people compared to last year and the third busiest since AAA began tracking in 2000.
In the seven-state West North Central Region, made up of mostly widespread rural states, 8.8 million travelers will journey 50 miles or more away from home, an increase of nearly 241,000 people over last year. The total equates to 40-percent of the region’s population traveling, the highest share of any region. The WNC region includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska and South Dakota.
For purposes of this forecast, the year-end holiday travel period is defined as the 11-day period from Friday, December 23 to Monday, January 2. This period is the same length as the 2021/2022 year-end travel period. The year-end holiday travel period can range from 10 to 13 days, depending on which day of the week Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fall. All the year-end holiday periods contain two weekends.
“Despite inflationary pressures, consumers remain resilient and dedicated to travel this year, and the holidays will be no different,” said Debbie Haas, Vice President of Travel for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Americans are spending more on travel than any other time in the past two years. The good news is the cost for a holiday road trip will be less expensive than anticipated, now that gas prices are on the way down.”
Nationwide, 90% of holiday travelers will drive to their destinations.
Air travel will see a 14% increase over last year, with nearly 7.2 million Americans expected to fly. Flights and airports will be packed this holiday season, reminiscent of pre-pandemic days. Demand for flights has surged despite higher airline ticket prices. AAA expects the number of people taking holiday flights this year will come close to matching 2019 when 7.3 million Americans traveled by air.
“If the distance is not reasonable to drive, more people are flying to maximize the time spent at their destination,” Haas adds. “Conversely, if the travel distances are reasonable and more than one or two people in the household are taking the trip, it may be more cost-effective to drive rather than buy multiple air tickets and rent a car.”
Other modes of transportation are also rebounding in a big way. AAA estimates travel by bus, rail, and cruise ship will rise to 3.6 million this holiday season, a 23% increase from last year and nearly 94% of 2019’s volume.
Holiday road trippers are getting the early gift of plunging prices at the pump. The North Dakota average has declined 58 cents per gallon in the past month. Today, the average statewide price is $3.06 per gallon. That’s 4 cents less than this date one year ago.
“Since most Americans have already made their holiday travel plans, gas savings likely won’t lead to more auto travelers,” said Gene LaDoucer, regional director for AAA-The Auto Club Group. “They may, however, provide additional funds for gifts or activities during the holiday.”
Drivers should prepare for delays, particularly in and around major metro areas. Nationwide, drivers could see travel times increase by 25%, according to INRIX, a provider of transportation analytics and insights. The most congested days on the road are forecast to be Friday before Christmas, December 27 and 28, and on Monday, January 2. INRIX predicts the single busiest travel day will be Tuesday, December 27th. The best advice for avoiding congestion is to leave early in the morning or later in the evening.
AAA Advice for Auto Travelers:
- Leave early so you are not in a rush.
- Watch the weather. Consider alternate routes or adjust your departure time to avoid driving through bad weather.
- Never drive distracted. Pre-program your GPS and put the cellphone down while driving.
- Slow down. Make sure you are driving a speed reasonable for the weather. If visibility is poor, or the roads are slick, slow down.
- Wear your seat belt and never drive impaired.
Nearly 899,000 drivers will need AAA roadside assistance during the 11-day holiday period. The most common reasons are for dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. AAA encourages drivers to get a full vehicle inspection before hitting the road - checking everything from your tires to brakes, lights, and wiper blades. You can find a list of AAA Approved Auto Repair Facilities at AAA.com/AutoRepair.
Being stuck on the roadside will be especially dangerous during the holidays, due to the influx of auto travelers and the potential for impaired drivers. AAA reminds motorists to slow down and move over for first responders and tow trucks. And although North Dakota law does not currently require it, AAA also urges drivers to move over for disabled vehicles on the roadside.
“Whether it’s a tow truck or a disabled vehicle, when you see flashing lights please move over,” said LaDoucer. “We want to make sure all holiday travelers, tow truck drivers and first responders make it home safely for the holidays.” Click here to learn more about The Auto Club Group’s ‘Move Over for Me’ campaign.
Strong demand will create long lines at airports, yet winter weather is the wild card. Snow and other winter conditions can not only cause delays and cancellations, but combine that with strong demand during this season, and you can have a hard time getting re-booked in a hurry.
“If you plan on flying this time of year, travel insurance can be extremely valuable for air travelers,” Haas said. “There are policies that can provide compensation for flight delays for as little as three hours. And if your flight is cancelled, passengers can receive compensation for covered out-of-pocket expenses.”
Other Air Travel Tips
- Check-in early online.
- Monitor your flight status using your air carrier’s mobile app.
- Arrive 2-3 hours before scheduled departure.
- Pack medications and an extra set of clothes in your carry-on bag, just in case your flight is delayed or cancelled.
If you have not booked your flight:
- Book a flight that leaves early in the day. Flights in the afternoon and evening are more susceptible to delays and cancellations.
- Book a direct flight. Otherwise, build in extra time between connections, in case your first flight is delayed.
- Consider traveling on Christmas Day. This could offer the best combination of availability and price.
Started in 1902 by automotive enthusiasts who wanted to chart a path for better roads in America and advocate for safe mobility, AAA has transformed into one of North America’s largest membership organizations. Today, AAA provides roadside assistance, travel, discounts, financial and insurance services to enhance the life journey of 62 million members across North America, including 56 million in the United States. To learn more about all AAA has to offer or to become a member, visit AAA.com
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DK SHIFFLET boasts the industry’s most complete database on U.S. resident travel both in the U.S. and worldwide. Data is collected monthly from a U.S. representative sample, adding over 60,000 traveling households annually, and is used daily by leading travel organizations and their strategic planning groups. DK SHIFFLET is an MMGY Global company.
Founded in 2004, INRIX pioneered intelligent mobility solutions by transforming big data from connected devices and vehicles into mobility insights. This revolutionary approach enabled INRIX to become one of the leading providers of data and analytics into how people move. By empowering cities, businesses, and people with valuable insights, INRIX is helping to make the world smarter, safer, and greener. With partners and solutions spanning across the entire mobility ecosystem, INRIX is uniquely positioned at the intersection of technology and transportation – whether it’s keeping road users safe, improving traffic signal timing to reduce delay and greenhouse gasses, optimizing last-mile delivery, or helping uncover market insights. Learn more at INRIX.com.